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Why Do We Need a Death Certificate?

One of the most important legal documents in the USA today is the death certificate. It is truly the only acceptable legal proof that a person has died. States use death certificates to discontinue social security payments and pensions. Families use the certificate to settle their affairs.

Vital records began in the USA in 1900, but it was in the 1930s that all states collected data on mortality. But how valuable is this information, after all?

The information required on a death certificate enables monitoring changes in society.

Is There One Standard Form?

Ohio’s death certificate information can be found at this site: Although states can offer variations, most states use the U.S. Standard Death Certificate issued by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). 

The CDCs goal is to use the form which complies with the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, in order to standardize global health reporting.

What is the Most Important Part?

Although the cause of death can be the part most prone to error, it is arguably the most essential information. The CDC publishes a physician’s handbook to explain and help with the form. Standard data like race, gender, age, education, place, and time of death are also valuable, as well as the cause of death and the manner of death.

Part I, the immediate cause of death, is described by the certifier. The sequence of events and any pertinent conditions are added that led up to the death. Part II contains a mandatory list of underlying causes of death. The words “probable” or “presumed” are often used when there is ambiguity or confusion surrounding the death. 

Who Signs It?

The National Association of Medical Examiners state that a coroner or medical examiner signs the death certificate approximately 20 percent of the time. Since autopsy rates have decreased significantly in hospitals, death investigators now perform most of the nation’s autopsies, listing causes that were missed and might not have been documented otherwise. 

In 2007, data available from the CDC showed that there were 201,000 autopsies performed, accounting for just eight percent of all deaths.

Others who can sign a death certificate are the primary physician, an attending or non-attending physician, the medical examiner, a nurse practitioner, a forensic pathologist, or a coroner, but it varies according to state law. Typically, the local health departments should receive the death certificate within 72 hours of the death and sent to the state of Ohio in five to seven days. 

Where Does the Data Go?

The data is recorded at the State Vital Statistics office, it is purchased by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), a division of the CDC. This information is forwarded to numerous government agencies and the private sector to direct funding and future prevention policies.

Death Certificate Changes

If there is an error found on the death certificate, especially after an autopsy reveals that the diagnosis was not correct, the death certificate needs to be changed. Families, courts, and insurance companies sometimes dispute how a person died. 

Amending errors on a death certificate is required by law. These error changes must be reported back to the CDC. This procedure can take months to years. 

Ultimately, as funeral directors, we are here to make a challenging situation easier for you and your family. Our funeral directors are knowledgeable and want to ensure that your funeral service is appropriate for you and your family. At Jeff Monreal Funeral Home, our experienced personnel is ready and willing to help you.